A Year in the Life: Snapshots from 2016

A Year in the Life! Not that of the Gilmore Girls, but that of mine. Another year has passed and I think many of us are happy to see 2016 come to an end. Being the news junkie that I am, it’s been a heavy year with all the evils going on, real and rhetorical. Perhaps because of the country in which I grew up, I am not used to the harsh rhetoric that was thrown back and forth during the U.S. election campaign. Everyone talks about energy vampires and one things that sucks out all my energy is when people speak ill of others and spread meanness around; it completely drains me! So the past year’s new cycle has been quite heavy for me. Fortunately (and speaking of the Gilmore Girls), I found the perfect antidote earlier this year: the Gilmore Guys podcast! The lovely duo Kevin and Demi have, while discussing every episode and character of the show for some 400+ hours, convinced me that the sometimes horrifying words that have come out from certain politicians are not the norm, but that for normal people the barre is set higher for what is acceptable behavior and not. I love Gilmore Girls – some describe the series like a warm blanket that helps through difficult and uncertain times – and so what better in times like these than to listen to a kind and cool community that shares my love for the show? (While writing this, I realize that I may have to write a separate post on this topic…)

As for my own life, nothing life altering happened for me in 2016, but I still did quite a lot. Here is a photo collage of what happened in my life in 2016. In the order of seasons, of course, in line with the title series!


Los Angeles: essentially my first time in Southern California since I lived there after high-school, and I still love it! Spent a few very nice days with my friend Anthony in Venice Beach, doing everything LA, from yoga and hiking, to tacos, acai bowls, and coconut water, and walking for hours along the beach every day. We also barbecued one evening with two of Anthony’s friends – an Italian-American couple whose wedding I attended in Venice my last summer in Italy. So from Venice to Venice Beach – closing the circle, or is the world just weirdly connected? // A visit at NASA: a childhood dream came true when I got to visit one of NASA’s Goddard’s Space Flight Centers in February (hence a rare picture of me here!) Behind me is the James Webb Space Telescope that will be launched in 2018 to replace Hubble. It will be rather compact when it is launched and then unfold itself in space over a period of six months (if I remember correctly) and it will be able to capture events billions of lightyears away. The most exciting part is probably that they expect that, just like Hubble, the James Webb Telescope will capture a lot of things that the developers have not planned for and that we are still not aware of. So fascinating – I can’t wait to see what it picks up once launched! The actual purpose of my visit? To learn more about NASA’s emissions and climate change observations. Almost as fascinating as the telescope and the space conditions testing facilities, and it made me dreaming of one day get to work for the space agency…


Paris tout seul: on my way to La Rochelle for a week’s holiday with friends, I was reached by the message that my dad had passed away. Not unexpectedly, but still a time for reflection. I stayed in Paris for a few days while rearranging my travel plans to go back to Stockholm. // New York: my only visit to the city this year, but with bella Camilla whom I know from my time in Rome! And lots of jazz clubs as her partner, Morten Ankarfeldt is a jazz musician (base player). // Learning: I spent a few evenings and weekends this spring taking a course in Urban Agriculture at the University of the District of Columbia (one of the U.S.’s Land-Grant Universities and with a cross disciplinary College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences, CAUSES). It was a fantastic break from my usual office life! I learned a lot of very practical, non-academic skills, was out in the fields digging and planting, and met people with very different backgrounds from me. My only complaint is that it was too short! // A marathon trip with four countries in less than two weeks: Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi – inspiring meetings with regional organizations and a presentation on agricultural risks in Malawi.


A new job: When I got back from my travels in early June, I saw an add for a very interesting job in Sidney, that would involve work on the Pacific Islands. Perhaps a long shot since it was for a quite highly qualified candidate, but the islands are interesting from a food systems perspective and Sidney is after all the no 1 city to live in according to international rankings, so I thought it would be worth trying. I drafted an application and was just about to submit it when I was offered another position in Washington with focus on the Africa region and more broadly on food and agriculture. It took another four months for the move to happen in practice, but if I would have gotten the offer a few weeks later, I might have celebrated the New Year in Sidney instead. Someone said that it seemed to be meant for me to stay in DC a little longer. I guess only time will tell! (The pic is from flying over Ethiopia’s agricultural landscape on one of my trips to Africa.) // Greece: 10 days of bliss on the gorgeous island Santorini! Perfect weather, fantastic food, and lovely people. I give it *****! // Break in Stockholm over the summer, enjoying the beautiful city, the company of friends, and Swedish fika (coffee, tea, or lemonade with snack). And of course my new kitchen in my little apartment that I mentioned in a post here (although I still need a kitchen table…) //  Copenhagen: quick stop on my way back to DC, visiting Camilla and Morten, and their little baby.


Uganda: possibly the country that gave me most awww this year! Buzzing, quickly adopting new technology, and with interesting art and culture here and there, Kampala definitely a cool place to visit. In my case, no less than twice in the fall. I haven’t been outside the capital yet, but I got to see Lake Victoria for the first time in my life and it is stunning! // Country no 50: The last new country that I went to this year was Sudan, which was also the 50th country that I’ve traveled to. I spent most of my time in the capital Khartoum but went into the rural areas for two days together with Government representatives, talking to farming and fishing communities. I also saw the Nile for the first time – incredibly impressive!  // Moves: I only moved 10 blocks and yet changed neighborhoods completely, from a beautiful but rather quiet area from which I could see the White House on a clear day, to a buzzing and quickly transforming part of North West DC that Washington Post named The District’s Best Dining Neighborhood of 2016.  I also moved into a new office in another building right across the street from where I used to sit. // Leisure: last but not least, I visited museums and and went performances (including St Petersburg’s incredible Mariinsky Ballet at DC’s Kennedy Center), and kept up with my art, with piano and singing lessons, ballet classes, and painting. Am I improving in any of these fields? Maybe a little, but I mostly do it just for fun and wellbeing!

In conclusion, I am ready to leave this year behind me! For those of you who wants to see more pics from this past year, check out my gallery on Instagram, @asagiertz

My First Visit to Kenya: People, Coffee, and Urban Agriculture

Sometimes life goes so fast that it’s difficult to keep up! This is essentially what has been the case for me since last time I wrote. I will spare you a tedious recap, although I might write now and then about things that I have done in this period, because a few of them have been quite interesting. But for now, I’ll remain in the present because enough is happening in he next two weeks to hopefully keep your interest up. Just like last June, I’m on a multi-country trip, visiting four countries in Africa this time, and three of which are new to me. So it should be an interesting trip this time!
My first stop was in Nairobi, where I’ve spent these past two days. I wish I could say that I visited the national park in the middle of the city, which Nairobians are very proud of, or that I went to a coffee roaster, or took a sightseeing tour. Or even went on a local bus! But no – I did none of that! After I arrived on Saturday around midnight, I stayed at the hotel all Sunday together with a colleague, preparing for a very busy week with a full agenda in three countries. And today, we’ve have had back to back meetings in between which I’ve tried to catch some impression of the city life through the backseatof a car window. Our main tourist stop was at The Junction (a shopping mall) where we picked up a cup of coffee at local coffee chain the Dormans, and I walked out with some very fashionable pieces of Kenyan garment. 

As for agriculture, I was happy to see that fallow urban land in the middle of the city had been organized into small garden lots, so urban agriculture in other words! Whether this was mainly for household consumption, or for any commercial activity, I wasn’t able to see, but it was enough to make me feel inspired and confirm my conviction that agriculture can be an integrated part of the urban space in any city. Otherwise, I had lots and lots of delicious Kenyan coffee, which also proved very effective in curing jet-lags! 

View over Nairobi’s skyline from mmy hotel room // Sunday work location at the hotel – kind of ok! 🙂 // fruitfilled brekfast with fresh sqeezed mango juice and favorite mini bananas // rose decoration in the bathroom // an attempt to capture street food stand from a moving car // Kenyan coffee! Last but not least: Furahiya chakula chako – enjoy your meal (Swahili)

I definitely hope that I get to go back and see more one day because Kenya such a fascinating and beautiful country! Even just driving around town gave a glimpse of richness of the flora, which many Kenyans also seem to cherish and I saw ample of roadside stands with pots and plants, and even cut flowers (no doubt from their very successful cut flower export industry) in a way that I have not seen in any other country as far as I can recall, except possibly England. I also had a chance to meet quite a mix of people in the short time that I was there, and Nairobi (and probably Kenya as a whole) is such a melting pot with people from all over the world, from those who came with past intercontinental trade routs and during the colonial era, to migrants from all over Africa, and with the Chinese investors and company employees being the latest addition to Nairobi’s population. A true cosmopolitan city in other word! But, alas, my curiosity over Kenyan culture and Nairobi’s urban agriculture will have to be kept in check for the moment as I am now on the flight to Gaborone, Botswana, which is the next stop on my itinerary. 

Celebrating Spring in Stockholm

After my trip to stunning Scotland and the breathtaking Hebrides in early April (one of my most memorable trips ever), work started picking up. Several trips were coming up with preparation and presentations to go with. Little before my upcoming birthday in late April, I all of a sudden got extremely homesick and decided to go to Stockholm for a week. Fortunately, I could work from home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go with everything that was going on. But this worked out perfectly and I celebrated my birthday with my childhood friend Jonas, and also got to celebrate Valborgsmässoafton five days later – one of my favorite holidays at which we celebrate springtime with communal bonfires and traditional songs. A lovely week with lots of work but also plenty of time to catch up with friends in the evenings!


Bellman Statue

Ulla Winbladh Restaurant

Hasselbacken Restaurant Stockholm

Hasselbacken Restaurant Stockholm

Hammarby Sjöstad Stockholm

For my birthday, Jonas and I had a drink at restaurant Ulla Winbladh and then dinner at Hasselbacken, both on the island Djurgården in central Stockholm. And I had my favorite dessert – crème brulée! And outside the restaurant sat on of my favorite composer, Swedish 18th century songwriter Carl Michael Bellman

Although it’s my hometown, I think I’m not alone in ranking Stockholm as one of the top travel destinations for a city weekend. Restaurants, cafes, and bars are frankly better than most places, and there is an immense diversity depending on what you’re up for. There is plenty of history, art, and culture (classic and contemporary), and the city itself is incredibly beautiful, situated perfectly on some 10 islands and fairly equally divided between water, parks, and neighborhoods. So I can truly recommend a visit, and also to see some of the areas outside the inner city borders. Like Hammarby Sjöstad above.

Catching Up While On Holiday in Grenada

Apologies for the long absentee from my blog! It started with work piling up in April-May, and then me managing to lock myself out from the site. Nevertheless, this has been a quite interesting period, or at least in terms of travels, so I will try to give a recap over the past three months. As for right now, I’m on Morne Rouge Beach in Grenada – amazingly beautiful and relaxing! And today Grenada celebrates Emancipation Day with a public holiday, so people have come down to the beach with food and drinks and music. there are lots of people here with food and drinks, so the atmosphere is perfect! Here are a few pics, with more to come after my April-July recap!

Morne Rouge Beach Grenada

Travel Plans for 2015

When I wrote my 2014 recap, I was thinking of what I could expect from 2015. Admittedly, I don’t think 2015 will bring any life altering changes for me and I don’t have any major new projects that I plan to undertake. However, I already have several exciting trips planned that I look forward to very much.  As I wrote in my previous post, I am shortly taking off for two weeks of work in Rwanda. Since I work in agriculture and often go out in rural areas to talk to farmers, I tend to see more of a country and the people there during my business trips than most people do during their travels. (I need to point this out because I’ve realized that when some people hear the word business trip, they think I spend my time in stuffy airport hotels and windowless meeting rooms, which is almost the opposite of what my work-related travel looks like.) Immediately after my trip to Rwanda, I’m going to the Scottish Hebrides and Edinburgh with my friend Andreas for a week. It’s a trip that has been in the planning for almost five years, so it’s about time! Later this spring, I have work trips planned for South Africa, Malawi, and possibly Central Asia, and I’m hoping to make it to Stockholm at some point and also to go and visit my friend A in Los Angeles. Summer is still open but I have some ideas, including going up to New York at some point and maybe seeing Montreal. And then in September I will likely participate in a conference in London. So without any major events in the outlook for 2015, I will definitely get to see a lot of interesting places and meet many new people. 

  Map from MapsofWorld.com 

Trip Advice for Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic

I rarely write up travel tips, mainly because I travel mostly for work and it’s not my role to evaluate establishments when there for professional purposes. But since I went on vacation this time, I thought I’d give some advice. I traveled by myself this time, and therefore opted to stay in Santo Domingo as I thought it would be easier to find things to do there. I wanted to spoil myself a bit this time so I stayed at Boutique Hotel Palacio in Zona Colonial, i.e. the old part of Santo Domingo. Hostels are probably the best places to stay when traveling alone because it is easy to meet people there, but Hotel Palacio seem to attract a lot of Americans my age, so I did meet people to go out with. The hotel was a little pricy compared to most other places here (although cheap compared to the US or Western Europe) but I chose it because it looked quite genuine and had a roof top pool. And I really liked staying here! It was perfect to have the pool to come back to after sightseeing tours around town. The only thing was that breakfast wasn’t included in the price of my room, and they only had quite expensive offers which didn’t match the price, so I went out for breakfast instead severals days. Can recommend Cafe Paco Cabana just around the corner: french inspired pastry with good coffee and a variety of fresh juices.

The hotel arranged for someone to pick me up at the airport for 40 dollars. Quite expensive but I checked with a colleague who travels here for work and he recommended arranging airport transport prior to arrival said US$ 40 was pretty standard. However, a group of guys at my hotel took a cab for 30 dollars directly from the airport and that seemed to work fine.

There are a lot of licensed guides around offering their services. I never hired someone but it seemed like a lot of people did. The guys at my hotel hired a guide with a car who took them around town also at night, and then dropped them off at the airport their last day. I talked a bit with the guide and he said he preferred working with Americans because of the tip, so it seems like tip is expected. Otherwise, tip is often included in the check at restaurants.

To be honest, I didn’t really go out to eat to any places that i would recommend, except for Cafe Paco Cabana El Conde and another pastry, also on El Cone, on the block after Calle Arz. Merino, but that I can’t remember the name of. I booked my boat trip with Colonial Tours (office on C/Arz. Merino 209) and they were really helpful except that they forgot to tell me to wear bathing clothes when getting on the boat as the first dip in the water was directly from the boat. Our tour guide didn’t mention this either and was, to be honest, not super friendly. Like I wrote earlier, the tour was more free drinks in plastic cups and lots of people trying to sell things at the beach, than an experience of the Nature Reserve but in it was a good way for me to get out of the city since most tours have pick up outside Santo Domingo.

I managed to see most sites in Santo Domingo that were indicated in my guidebook, including Casas Reales, El Alcazar de Colón, El Pantheon, and Cathedral Primada Americas. Entrance fees were around 100 pesos (2 dollars) and it included an audio guide in all places except for the Pantheon. My favorite was by far the Cathedral. It was so peaceful and so full of history, including as a place for slaves to meet and organize themselves. My guidebook wrote that el Alcazar de Colón, the vice royals residence Governing House from the 1500s, was the no 1 place to see, but I would recommend taking time to see the Cathedral.

Needless to say, I found people really nice! But then again, I normally do. It’s probably possible to manage in Santo Domingo without speaking Spanish, but knowing the basics certainly helps. I went to several bookstores (of course, as the bookaholic I am!) and I couldn’t even find a guidebook in English.

As for me, I loved my six days in the Dominican Republic! Here are a few more pics (the last is from my hotel):










Louis Emanuel and the Larimar Stones

For me, one of the best things with traveling are all the people I meet. Like yesterday, when I met Louis Manuel who sells jewelry on the corner outside my hotel. He sells the blue larimar stones, which can only be found in the Dominican Republic and since blue is my favorite color, I couldn’t resist browsing a bit when I passed by his stand the other day. I was low on cash and I hadn’t had a chance to withdraw money, and I told him so directly. But we started talking and he told me that he actually goes down in the caves underground to fetch the stones that he makes the jewelry with. I’m not staying long enough this time, but he told me that if I came back, I could go with him to Barahona and get the stones. I asked if it wasn’t dangerous, and he said that it was a little dangerous and that he had two friends who had died in the caves. But, he said, what is life if we don’t live a little dangerous sometimes? True! He told me he had worked with making these jewelers for more than 20 years and since he didn’t have any children himself, he gave some of the proceeds to an orphanage. We talked a bit more about the stones and how they are marked by other minerals, and he gave me a small stone. He asked me to write down my name on a paper and then he wrote it in metal thread with a cutter. I asked if I could pay a little since I did still have a couple of dollars in pesos, but he said it was a gift. Needless to say, I went back the day after and bought a set of larimar jewelry from him. Here is Louis Emanuel in the corner of Calle Conde and Calle Duarte in Santo Domingo:



Fifty Shades of Blue

Yesterday I took at boat tour to Saona Island, which is part of a national park a few hours away from Santo Domingo. To be honest, it wasn’t the best arranged tour I’ve been on, and it took three and half hours before we even got to the place where the boat picked us up (including a 20-minute stop at a low-quality but expensive souvenir shop with commission for our tour guide). But I forgot all of that as soon as I saw the water! The colors shifted from from turquoise to deep blue and green, and it was warm, calm, and soothing. I was completely hooked and am already planning for my next vacation in the Caribbean: a beach holiday with day tours to towns instead. Here is paradise overload:






Three Lovely Days in New York City

I just got back a few hours ago after three wonderful days in New York. I visited a friend of mine who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I had a really relaxing time with him and his friends. As he had other friends in town, we ended up doing quite a bit of touristy things and took several ferries around Brooklyn and over to Staten Island. We also had time for quite a few restaurants, cafes (Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint and Egg for brunch today, among others), and bars these days. A really good restaurant that we went to was Traif. It served French inspired food, tapas style, and everything was delicious. (Or I see now that they refer to it as globally inspired soul-food, but I thought what we ordered very French.) It’s on South 4th Street in Brooklyn and I can recommend it! And Sunday afternoon, we went to a band session at The Shanty (New York Distilling Company), which made me feel a little like a student again and thinking that I should do such things more often!  I ended up working all day yesterday, but working in New York still feels a bit like vacation to me. The trip was totally spontaneous, but I am really glad I went! Here are some pics:






A Snowy Philadelphia

I stayed an extra day in Philadelphia after the Feeding Cities Conference last week. I had never been to Philadelphia before and for a history nerd like myself, it was really exciting to just walk around and see all the places that put a mark in American History. (For you who are not familiar with American history, the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were signed in Philadelphia, and the city functioned as the U.S. capital for a few years after independence, before Washington DC was ready to hold the government administrations.) Or it was exciting until it started to snow. After having walked around for over 4 hours in freezing cold, I gave up and jumped on a sightseeing bus. Ironically (given the conference I had just attended), it was wrapped in a Tropicana Juice ad and only allowed limited sight through the window, but at least I got a guided tour. Not sure who comes up with the idea of covering the windows of a sightseeing bus, though….









Selected sites in a very grey and cold Philadelphia: Independence Hall, the First National Bank, the Customs Bourse, the Irish Monument, Philadelphia’s harbor area, and the Signer. When I saw the man on the bench, I couldn’t help wondering if this was the America that the Founding Fathers had  in mind when they dreamed of their new country.